China, Ethiopian Airlines Ground Their Max 8 Fleets

 - March 11, 2019, 4:57 AM
Air China had to ground all 15 of its Boeing 737 Max 8s as ordered by the Chinese CAA. (Photo: Boeing)

Ethiopian Airlines has followed the Civil Aviation Authority of China in grounding all its Boeing 737 Max 8s in response to Sunday morning’s crash of one of the airplanes outside Addis Ababa, killing all 157 aboard. The grounding by China’s CAA affects 96 Max 8s registered in the country, or more than a quarter of the global fleet. On Monday morning Ethiopian Airlines said it had grounded the remaining five Max 8s in its fleet, citing the need for “an extra safety precaution.”

In its order, the Chinese CAA said it grounded the fleet “in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards,” noting the fact that the Ethiopian crash and the crash of a Lion Air Max 8 in Indonesia four months ago both happened during the takeoff phase and exhibited “certain similarities.” Hours after China issued its order early Monday morning, Cayman Airways removed its pair of Max 8s from service and the civil aviation authority of Indonesia grounded all the Max 8s registered in that country.  

Flight ET 302 took off from Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport for Nairobi at 8:38 am local time on Sunday. Air traffic control lost contact with the crew just six minutes later. The airplane crashed near Bishoftu, about 35 miles southeast of Addis Ababa.

Upon return from the crash site, Ethiopian Airlines senior management said it would not rule out any probable cause of the accident. During an ensuing press conference, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said the flight’s captain reported a problem soon after takeoff and had received clearance from ATC to return to Addis Ababa. Gebremariam added that the airline took delivery of the airplane just last November and it had logged just 1,200 flight hours. Prior to the accident flight, the Max 8 had flown from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa Sunday morning without incident. “The aircraft came from Johannesburg the same morning and spent three hours at Addis Ababa Airport,” he said. “It came without any remark.” The pilot in command, who joined Ethiopian in 2010, had flown the 737 since 2017 and collected more than 8,000 flight hours, during which time he registered an “excellent safety record,” said Gebremariam.

The accident comes just four and a half months after the Lion Air Max 8 crash into the Java Sea, killing all 189 aboard. Until the Chinese order, authorities had not drawn any parallels between the two disasters, however, and Gebremariam said the airplane exhibited no technical problems in the four months it had flown for Ethiopian.

The aircraft underwent a technical check on February 4, he added. “There was no technical finding. It is a clean aircraft,” said Gebremarian.

Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of the aircraft from Boeing on November 15, 2018. The airline received its first Max 8 in June 2018 and the doomed aircraft was the airline’s fourth.

The captain, Yared Getachew Tessema, had worked for Ethiopian Airlines since July 2010. He had accumulated 8,231 flight hours, and some 1,500 as pilot in command. He became a captain in November 2017, on the Boeing 737-800. The first officer, Ahmednur Mohammed, had flown 200 hours.